Tag Archives: Laura Mariko Cheifetz

Presbyterians celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

My friend the Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz is celebrating the month with a series on her blog with guest writers “from many generations, different ethnic groups, and represent the diversity of what it means to be Asian Pacific American and Presbyterian.”

Check it out!

See you along the Trail.

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Show up for each other

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) participated in the orientation for Presbyterian delegation to the 58th Session to the Commission on the Status of Women.

After being in New York, he flew to Whitworth University in Spokane, WA for the Third Moderator’s Conversation on Unity with Difference on Race, Gender, and Religious Differences.

The Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz was among the speakers at the conversation. As always, Laura made an insightful, challenging, hopeful presentation on Power and the Black-White Binary: Forging Authentic Church Identities in the Midst of White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Being “Other Asian”.

Laura provides the following summary of her presentation:

Being church together is challenged by the ways in which various church communities and individual church members interact with power based on race and gender, not to mention class status and regional identity. The church, particularly the PC(USA), includes people with diverse capacities for a real conversation. Through exploring the place of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (who in the PC(USA) can check either “Korean” or “Other Asian” for demographic information on some forms) and others dislocated by the black-white binary in church and U.S. society, together we seek a way to move forward toward being a church that allows for complexities of identity and addresses real inequalities.
A couple of passages should encourage you to read the whole presentation:
Race and gender themselves are not the problems obstructing unity. The problems here are racism and sexism. Who we are isn’t the problem, but how we live into oppressive constructs that separate us from one another is. What I will say this morning is part of a longer conversation we in the church need to have with one another, because even though we have been in this conversation for decades, we have yet to diminish our capacity to sin when it comes to relationship with one another.
Our conversation cannot depend upon a generic experience of racism (usually defined by blackness) or sexism (usually defined by middle-aged white women) imposed upon other experiences. Racism is not just about color. It is also about language, culture, colonialism, national origin, and citizenship status. Sexism is not just about how many women get to be heads of staff of tall steeple churches or directors of church agencies. It is about how we continue to think about gender identity and gender roles, and how those thoughts are embedded in our culture and our policies. It is about earning potential; church policies around work hours, compensation, and family leave; about how well churches minister to the lived realities of women in their employ and women who choose to be part of churches. It is about the culture of church leading change in the culture of this country instead of propping up legal and cultural patriarchy.
 
Social issues are theological. It is a theological problem if Christians believe employment opportunity for those with varying levels of education, immigration, the criminal justice system, gun control, political gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, the financial services sector, hunger, poverty, and economic inequality are not the business of the church. These are things that have a disproportionate impact on the lives of people of color. These are the problems that keep us from attaining a shot at racial justice. These are the problems that shape our lives because we’re always negotiating with banks to allow our in-laws to keep their homes, or finding lawyers so our mothers can stay in the country, or finding people to write letters attesting to the character of our wrongfully accused sons, or looking for ways to feed our families. We have to worry about elected officials who don’t look like us or care about our communities. This takes up a lot of time and energy, and it is our faith that keeps us going. These are the circumstances we bring with us to church every single Sunday.
Laura also identifies resources for further conversations:
I have read Laura’s presentation several times. I will read it several more as I seek ways to respond to her invitation and challenge:
So if we of varying races, genders, and religious groups show up for each other, and if we of varying spiritual gifts show up for each other, maybe that is a way of finding how to be authentically church. Maybe that is how we can create change.
See you along the Trail.

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On my heart and mind: children

Child soldiersA while back, I posted a sermon about children. Grieving the many places where children endure unimaginable violation, it affirms our call to care for children:

In this place, I am reminded that God is at work in all places. And that sustains and challenges me to look for how God is at work and, as the Holy Spirit gives me grace, to join in that work.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Faith in God in Christ have put them there.

And in this place, God invites us all to join in caring for the children. The children of this congregation. The children of this community. All the children, all God’s children of the world. May we hear and respond.

Today, my friend Laura Mariko Cheifetz posted a reflection on children “Children Aren’t Disposable“. She reaches a similar conclusion:

I think children matter. I think everyone’s child matters. I do not believe that parents or communities or even children need to be virtuous or free of fault in order to think their children and perhaps even their parents deserve protection and generosity. You can make all the bad decisions you want, but I still believe you and your children deserve life. I extrapolated this from the lesson my parents drummed into me: You do not have to earn grace. It has already been given.

Children matter. Their families matter. Grace has already been given. Let’s act like it.

And she does a better job of lifting up ways to act:

Support the Children’s Defense Fund. They do great work at a policy level.

Read Toxic Charity. Consider changing your mission to be less charity and offers more agency to people. Bulk discounts (for your Sunday school or book group) are available. http://www.thethoughtfulchristian.com/Products/9780062076212/toxic-charity–paperback-edition.aspx

Write letters to migrant children. http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/faithshare/people-are-writing-letters-to-the-migrant-children-and-they-are-beautiful/

Advocate for immigration reform that will allow people dignity and a path to regularization. Congress has recessed for August, so there isn’t legislation to advocate for. But you can still leave a message with your U.S. and state congresspeople urging them to support meaningful immigration reform and humane immigration processes, particularly for children and their parents who may be eligible for asylum, rather than increased criminalization and security measures. TheThoughtfulChristian.com has many books and downloadable studies to help you and your church talk about immigration and take action.

Oppose zero-tolerance policies in schools, stop and frisk public policing, and other ways that disproportionately criminalize black and brown youth.

You may give to UNICEF and UNRWA, who work with children in Gaza and the occupied territories. You can also ask your congresspeople to reconsider our typical military aid package to the nation of Israel. You could work with local peace organizations to advocate for an end to the blockade and the occupation.

Children matter. Join in caring for them.

See you along the Trail.

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Reflections on the World Council of Churches General Assembly

The World Council of Churches recently concluded their 10th Assembly. The Assembly met in Busan, Republic of Korea.

When I traveled to Korea this spring, I had the privilege to address the Busan WCC Preparatory Committee.

I did not return for the Assembly. Part of me wishes I had. A large group of Presbyterians attended, including colleagues and friends. Hearing of their experiences reminded me of my Korean connections.

In addition to the news accounts from the WCC and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), many of the participants wrote and blogged about the Assembly. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, wrote several reflections

For analysis of the Assembly through the lens of gender and racial justice, check out the blog of my friend Laura Mariko Cheifetz. Here are her current postings along with some teasers.

I know, I should really appreciate everyone’s voices being shared. I should make sure that any decision-making process allows for all voices. But consensus is just as complicated a process as is Robert’s Rules/parliamentary procedure, and the process combined with limited time allowed for discussion really can quash serious disagreement and discussion (unless you’re a dude, according to this meeting).

We have theological and Biblical reasons for our long-standing ecumenical activity. Succumbing to our desire to hoard our diminishing resources and the influence of the isolationist/conservative element in the PC(USA) would be a theological statement – that we believe we do not have enough. We believe in scarcity. We believe that our own institutional preservation is of greater theological value and import than our commitment to being part of the larger Christian family.

There is a line between tokenizing and fetishizing young people’s voices, and genuinely holding up their leadership. Let’s be clear, the church is usually behind other social institutions in giving young people real responsibilities and taking them seriously.

And a highlight of my day, besides the mens’ statement, was going to the steps outside the convention center with hundreds of other participants in the pre-assembly for a group picture, with women from all over the world singing “We Shall Overcome.” This, from women who had just been discussing trafficking of women and children, and sexual violence. There is plenty of hope here. I can’t wait for tomorrow, for the beginning of the assembly.

A woman selling food by the beach gave me a look when I said I was American. I took that to mean that she didn’t quite believe me because of my looks (this is a frequent problem I have when traveling in other countries – I don’t look white, don’t have blond hair or blue eyes, and I like spicy food, so I do not seem very American to some). I said my mother’s family was Japanese, and she walked away. I know that just because my family wasn’t in Japan, and spent a few years locked up in concentration camps in the U.S. for being Japanese, does not make much of a difference to a people who were systematically terrorized by a brutal and dehumanizing regime.

Like many with privilege, I want to squeeze myself into a corner and not take up too much space out of an awareness of that privilege. Of course, as an under-40 woman of color, there is another part of me that knows disappearing is not the answer. Making myself small and withholding my contributions to the work is just another way to exercise privilege, or to allow those from my denomination and country with more personal privilege to dominate. So I will participate. In fact, I think I’ll be working my ass off, dancing between contributing the appropriate amount and making sure my contributions are not dominant over the contributions of others with less economic and social power in this religious world. At least I’m aware that I should not dominate the conversation.

Laura also posts a number of photo blogs:

If you want to learn more about the WCC General Assembly, check out Laura’s work. She says more will follow.

See you along the Trail.

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Hug longer

Yesterday the community gathered to celebrate the life of the Rev. Bert Tom. A number of my friends attended. Being on the opposite coast, I did not. 

Bert TomI knew Bert. My friends knew him better. But our paths crossed from time to time.

At the time of Bert’s death, my friend Laura Mariko Cheifetz wrote about Bert and Satoru Nishita, her grandfather who died at about the same time. Her reflections led me to ponder what I had learned from my mentors and family members.

My friend, and another person mentored by Bert, Irene Pak (she blogs at Abiding in Hope) attended the celebration of Bert’s life. She reflects on the celebration in a post from today. It is a warm, touching reflection about what Bert meant to her and to so many. 

Irene frames her thoughts around her last meeting with Bert. A sentence near the end jumped out at me:

I wish I would have known that was going to be the last time I saw you–I probably would have hugged you longer.

Of course we rarely know when the last time we see anyone else will be. I have known with certainty on a few occasions. Sometimes I have had a pretty good idea because of the health of the other person. But over the past week, I have recalled  how fragile life is and how quickly it can end – by illness or by accident or by factors unseen. Quickly let me add that no one died. But events of the week reinforced that lesson.

Not knowing makes Irene’s invitation and challenge more poignant and profound. It also makes it more relevant in every relationship. In response to Irene, it seems that we would do well to ponder if, at all times and all places, we should:

  • hug our family, friends, and mentors longer (or at all in the case of any non-huggers out there – not sure who that might be)’
  • enjoy our family, friends, and mentors  more fully;
  • listen to our family, friends, and mentors more carefully;
  • tell our family, friends, and mentors what they mean to us more regularly; and
  • make time for family, friends, and mentors more often.

Will I?

See you along the Trail.

The photo is shared with permission from Abiding in Hope by Irene Pak.

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Of life and death; of family and mentors

My friend Laura Mariko Cheifetz has created a blog. Her intelligence, creativity, imagination, love, and passion for justice will make this worth reading.

Her recent post on the death of Satoru Nishita, her grandfather, and Bert Tom, one of her mentors, provides an introduction to her work and an example of what to expect when you subscribe. Here are a couple of excerpts:

My grandfather, Satoru Nishita, and my mentor Bert Tom died last week. I sent a text to a Korean American pastor friend of mine saying, “All these old guys are leaving us.”
This, of course, was not meant to be a theological statement.
This was a statement that was perfectly me: a bit dramatic. I am struggling with the passing of a generation of Asian Americans who faced racism and the assorted foibles of their professions with dignity. The generation of my grandparents, born in the U.S. but imprisoned by its own government for being of Japanese descent during World War II, is a generation that left a profound imprint on my generation and my mother’s generation, and it is slipping away before we get a chance to hear all the stories.

She concludes:

These old guys. While death claimed my grandfather and my mentor, in very different ways their lives taught me to struggle against Death, against powers and principalities, against environmental destruction and racism. They leave us with a legacy of commitment to justice, and a desire that the beauty of the world be revealed.

As she celebrates her family in the post  Laura invites me to remember and give thanks for family members and mentors who taught and shaped me through the years. As I read, I saw Bert’s face (I knew him) and imagined the face of Satoru – I met him through Laura and her mother. As I read, I also saw the faces of those who have been and who now are part of my life. I give thanks for the life of Satoru and Bert. I give thanks for my family and mentors. And I realize I have some calls to make and letters to write.

Check out In Life & In Death, We Belong to God. Remember. Give thanks.

See you along the Trail.

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